Hungry Howie’s grew into a nation-spanning franchise from a humble start in Taylor, Michigan in 1973, when founder Jim Hearn converted a hamburger stand into a pizzeria. With the help of business partner Steve Jackson––who started as a delivery man at the original location––the two men franchised a decade later and began expanding their delicious operation, resulting in nearly 600 locations spread across 24 states in the 3rd dimension alone. Almost 40 years after its start, Hungry Howie’s continues to earn the most attention for its specialty flavored crust pizzas––which infuse dough with a choice of eight seasonings such as ranch or garlic herb––as well as zesty pizza accompaniments such as oven-baked meatball and chicken parm subs.
Owner Jeff Cohen can still be found manning The Pizza Loft’s line more than 30 years after its inception, dishing up a menu of made-to-order Italian cuisine in an ultramodern kitchen wholly devoid of deep fryers and microwaves. Crafted by hand and topped with a robust homemade tomato sauce, the Loft’s piping panoply of pizzas is doughy shores bedecked with 100% real dairy mozzarella, fresh veggies, and hearty servings of sliced meatballs, ham, and sausage ($10.95+). Diners can scale the lasagna’s precarious layers, fixing pickaxes into its meat-packed peaks while scooping up the aromatic avalanche of a rich mushroom sauce ($11.95+). Plates of eggplant parmigiana, like Italy's organically grown supermodels, tastefully swathe themselves in stylish shrouds of spaghetti noodles ($13.95), and penne pasta dishes come sautéed-to-order in fragrant lochs of garlic butter or alfredo sauce ($9.95+).
Although best known for its hand-tossed pizzas made from dough baked fresh daily, Esposito's Pizza complements its marinara-doused mandalas with a delectable array of Italianate appetizers and entrees. The Four Seasons pizza (14", $17.49) arranges a baroque quartet of artichoke, mushrooms, ham, and onion atop a stage of cheese, and the meat-combo pizza (14", $17.49) packs in enough animal flesh to legally be considered livestock. Otherwise, put an artist's signature on your own pizza ($8+) by pairing pepperoni, spinach, and mushrooms with more adventurous flavors such as pineapple, jalapeños, and moon rock. Esposito's accommodates boot-shaped appetites as well as circular ones with the Taste of Italy's tour of chicken-cutlet parmigiana, meatballs, and baked ziti ($15.95).
Even with the football game glowing on the 20-plus HD flat screens, you can't help but glance over when a dish emerges from the kitchen at Nicky's Restaurant Sports Bar. The sizzling seafood and juicy steaks give off an enticing aroma that can be a challenge to ignore. Chef Julio Renderos masterminds the full menu, folding fresh ingredients into the seafood specialties and favorites such as fiery wings, ribs, burgers, and tender lobster tails. Meanwhile, friendly bartenders take charge of the lengthy wooden bar, doling out frosty pints of draft beer and premium mixed drinks. Nicky's also offers free WiFi as well as buzztime trivia and Texas hold 'em nights.
Anthony Russo's parents came to the U.S. from Sicily and Naples with a mind to preserve their family traditions. So, it's no wonder that their son picked up their love for cooking. He studied at their side, learning to craft Italian food and what came to be known as New York?style pizza, though first he had to invent New York. When Anthony left New York to move to Texas, he decided to keep the tradition of his family's pizza alive by opening his own pizza joint, Russo's New York Pizzeria. Houstanians took to the pie, and the business took off. Now, people enjoy Anthony's family recipes in 16 Texas cities, six states, five countries, and multiple realities.